The CSR Diaries: The Business of Strangers

Neo-Prodigy drew first blood in this series when he wrote:
You may want to be careful about using a CSR as a punching bag, especially if you're required to give them your physical address and your credit card information to complete a transaction in that same call.

It's basically the same as going out on the street cussing someone out and then handing them your name, home address and your bank information.
I feel this is a more than appropriate opening for a post about something which has always bugged me about being a CSR. Most folks who call customer service always conveniently forget they are talking to complete strangers.

1) We don't know youWe don't even know each other.

Saying "I am So-and-So from Such-and-Such" means absolutely nothing to us.  A single company often has several customer service centers scattered across the country in order to accomodate the time zones.  So that girl, Jenny, whom you chatted with last week?  She's probably in New York.  Today you're chatting with Robert in San Antonio and he has no idea what you're babbling about.

Furthmore, customer service centers all have their own verification processes.  Some want info like addresses and phone numbers.  The cell phone industry tends to want more, like passwords (which you choose), answers to security questions (which you choose), or the last four digits of your social security number (which anyone over the age of 16 ought to know).  In most situations, they cannot access any of your information until you complete verification.  In other words, they can't go from Screen A to Screen B until they input the appropriate information, either because their company's computer system simply won't allow it, or because they're prohibited from doing so by state and federal law.

This is where customers often forget these laws and safeguards were put in place for their own protection.

2) I...don'

Most people who call into customer service think that just by dialing in and pushing a few prompts means that when a CSR answers, that CSR automatically knows everything about them.  Um, no.  I have to verify who you before we can proceed.  THEN I have to check to see if you called in before, whom you spoke to, and what about.

Sometimes, people try to be cute by rattling off their name, address, phone number, and any passwords they've set up all in one long incoherent sentence before launching directly into whatever it is they want.  This puts the CSR in the unpleasant situation of having to ask the customer to repeat...things...slowly.  Depending on where a CSR works, asking a customer to repeat anything can incur a penalty, which sometimes directly affects their paycheck.

So just answer the CSR's questions one by one...when they ask them.  Don't try to play mind reader and don't try to speed things up.  Which leads us to a very important Fashion Tip from Moi: Don't call customer service if you're in a hurry.  That's what the internet is for.

Don't call when you're driving.  Don't call on your 10-minute break at work.  Don't call in the middle of night as you're walking to your car or early in the morning as you're getting ready to drop the kids off at school.  Call when you have time to call.

3) Seriously, I don't know you.

And you don't want me to.  Like I said before, customer service is set up to regularly service folks in the biz, not civilians.  Regular people are only expected to call in for extraordinary reasons, like accidentally being charged $1000.00 on a bill that's usually $100.00.  Or receiving a brand new item in the mail that doesn't work at all (like a coffeemaker which doesn't turn on after you plug it in and flip the switch) - you know, rare shit like that.

So if you're a regular person calling in all the time, CSRs are noting that on your account.  And when they've noted it too many times in too little time - and I've seen this happen - upper management can place a "Do Not Engage" alert on your account.  This means you won't get to speak to lowly CSRs anymore; you'll be automatically transferred to speak with people who aren't underlings and who can make your life a living hell.  They can close your account, bar you from ever receiving services again, and then take whatever balance you owe (plus interest, service charges, and whatever late/cancellation fees they damn well please) out of your next tax refund - seriously.  These people are usually called Account Service Reps/Managers, and they don't give two shits about your feelings or dissatisfaction with customer service...though their tones may indicate otherwise.

4) We're not your friendsWe don't know you like that.

The title of this post is "The Business of Strangers".  I've covered the "strangers" portion of this post; now let's talk business.

Folks...real talk...stop being surprised/shocked/appalled/angry/hurt whenever a bill is due.  Stop feeling entitled just because you think a bill is too high.  Companies are not your friends, regardless of their cute little lines or witty commercials.  The bubbly representative smiling at you in the store or complimenting your name over the phone doesn't give a fuck about you.  They're like hookers; they're paid to smile and say whatever they think you want to hear to get your money.  THAT'S WHY IT'S CALLED BUSINESS.

Every hookup, discount, or get-out-of-jail free card they flash your way has been pre-approved and company-sanctioned; they ain't doin' nothin' "special" for you.  The goal is to relax your guard, making you feel all warm and "a valued customer".  CSRs who work the phones are regularly coached on tone; we're ordered to sound as pleasant as possible, asking you about your day, expressing sympathy if you're sick or have lost a loved one, and overall pretending as though we're not trying to get you off the phone in 5 minutes or less (our calls are timed).  We're trained to listen to specific cues, to adapt to your speech patterns, and make you laugh to loosen you up.  Hell...if you flirt with us, odds are we're going to giggle and flirt right back without hesitation.

We don't know you.  We don't like you.  But we're a business and we want your money - so deal.

After all, you want our services.  You want hi-tech phones, hi-def cable, high-speed internet, imported coffees, top-notch coverage, round-the-clock service, and so on, and so forth.  You want it all, and you want it now.  Guess what?  It'll cost you.

Buddha once preached that the cause of all suffering in humankind is desire. Well... whattaya know.


  1. "This puts the CSR in the unpleasant situation of having to ask the customer to repeat...things...slowly. Depending on where a CSR works, asking a customer to repeat anything can incur a penalty, which sometimes directly affects their paycheck."

    Damn, that is seriously fucked up.

  2. Madame, I'm gonna need you to stop preaching the gospel.

    I'm simply running out of internets to hand you.

  3. Leo Princess4/18/12, 10:03 PM

    Once again, I will go to my bed thanking my Most High Deity that I did not get that CSR job. Praises be!

  4. After all, you want our services. You want hi-tech phones, hi-def cable, high-speed internet, imported coffees, top-notch coverage, round-the-clock service, and so on, and so forth. You want it all, and you want it now. Guess what? It'll cost you.

    Um, yeah!!! And then after all *that*...mofos wanna trip with the BILL!!

    A former fellow and mutual CSR who worked for Verizon killed me with her stories. Here is a snippet:

    Idiot: My phone bill is way too high. I don't know what all these calls are.
    CSR: They were made by someone in your family. Do you have anyone else on your service? A child, perhaps?
    Idiot: Yes. My bill is $1000. Can you change it so that s/he won't run up the charges anymore?
    CSR (thinking): I'M GONNA NEED FOR YOU TO GET CONTROL OF YOUR FUCKING KID!!! Words actually uttered: Sir/Ma'am, these are authorized charges; I just can't remove them or change your account to keep your child from using the phone.
    Idiot (with a stank ass attitude): I need to speak to your supervisor.
    CSR: *without argument* Hold, please.

    These kinds of calls are the worst. Parents who let their kids fuck up the phone bill because they ain't got balls enough to snatch them little bastards back in line...deserve to pay every single DIME of said bill.

  5. Perla Buttons4/19/12, 11:47 PM

    Thank you for this series. The entitlement, it burns.

    I recently saw a "David vs. Goliath" consumer outrage story on a current affairs show. A woman had been fined for repeatedly driving on a toll road without paying (it's a scanner/electronic tag system with no physical tolling stations). She was fined further for *not paying her fines on time*.

    You know why she called in the TV crew? Because it was unfair of them to fine her at all as she moved here from interstate several months ago (it takes 15 mins to set up an account online).

    And the late fees are unfair because she was *too busy* to pay her fines! The mean, money-grubbing CSRs she spoke to didn't revoke or reduce her fines at all, so she had to call the media to fight the good fight. Stop the world! An entitled white woman is busy!

    1. Leo Princess4/20/12, 1:43 PM

      Please tell me that she was told where she could go.

    2. Perla Buttons4/20/12, 9:22 PM

      I'm afraid I didn't make it to the end due to a mini rage blackout/channel switch. I got as far as her interview, the explanation of her situation and the journo's "Big Evil Company's evil annual revenue and heartless lack of flexibility towards people who'd rather not pay for stuff" commentary and summary of the factors at play. She was definitely the poor, defenceless, relatable "victim" of the piece.

    3. The recession has really made some folks cray-cray. All of a sudden they feel shouldn't have to pay for anything...but they still want everything.

    4. What in the shit????????????????????????????????????????????????


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